The Houston Astros' 2024 rotation is in a bit of a weird spot at the moment. Four spots are basically locked up with Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and (probably) Jose Urquidy. However, the last spot(s) look to be very much up in the air albeit with some favorites to win entering spring training this year.
JP France and Hunter Brown are going to be given an opportunity to win a spot to be sure. However, France doesn't have the type of swing and miss stuff that projects well most of the time and Brown certainly misses bats and can throw hard, but he gassed badly in the second half last year and it is unclear as to whether he can produce over the course of a long season.
Complicating matters is that the Astros could entertain going with a six man rotation ($) especially early on in 2024. Verlander is older and may need his innings managed and keeping all of their rotation arms fresh for late in the year has a lot of value.
With that in mind, here is a look at some of the more unlikely guys that could figure into the Astros' rotation mix in 2024. These are guys that may not stay in that spot for good or have other questions that could make them underdogs, but who also have a realistic chance especially if they play well this spring and Houston does indeed opt to go with a six man rotation to start the season.
Yes, yes...the Astros have been clear that they are going to try Whitley out in the bullpen this year and frankly, there are a lot of good reasons to do that. Whitley's struggles in a starting role especially when it comes to actually staying on the field are well-documented. Having Whitley pitch in shorter stints long-term certainly looks like the absolutely correct decision and potentially a fruitful one considering how Whitley's already impressive stuff could play up in the role.
However, don't sleep on Whitley seeing some action as a "starter" early on in the season if the Astros do decide to go six deep there. One way that the Astros could choose to go about using an expanded rotation is to have bullpen games every sixth day. With Whitley, he could still pitch multiple innings, but not go the full five or six and give way to the rest of the bullpen after that.
If this were to happen, it wouldn't be a long-term strategy in all likelihood. Whitley's track record of health (or lack thereof) is enough that he probably only needs to be on the mound for an inning at a time, but this arrangement could work for a month or two while guys like Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. finish getting healthy,